As an English teacher and a reading specialist as well as a mother of a sixth grade boy with dysgraphia, I am really struggling with helping him write his expository essay on earthquakes.
First, he doesn’t want any advice from me. He does not feel that my multiple degrees and certifications carry much weight around here.
Secondly, he struggles with his learning disability. Dysgraphia is a writing disability to that affects a person’s ability to take their ideas and put them on the page. Their writing is often disorganized and unfocused. An early indicator is a child’s exceptionally poor handwriting as well as an inability to keep words moving in the proper way across a page. Sentences slope up the side of a page or nose dive down through multiple pale blue lines that are meant to show the writer where to put the words. Margins are vast areas of white space where their names float in all lowercase letters. Dates are never arranged in the proper order. Another characteristic I have noticed about students who struggle with dysgraphia is their strong verbal ability. Since verbal ability and writing are two totally different functions of the brain, many teachers assume a child who can speak about it should also be able to write about. These students also believe this and grow angry about their difficulties in writing and only blame themselves. In trying to help these students as well as my son, I have stumbled over a few good methods for helping with writing.
Method Number One: Chunking
More than likely you are a much better writer than your child with much better habits when writing, but this is a really tough activity for most people. Similar to reading, you benefit your child if you give them a chunked time limit for writing. Also, allow them to get up and walk away if they get frustrated. I never make writing an entire class period, which is about 52 minutes. At home during this time, I block it into 30 minute increments, and my son does other activities he enjoys in between writing stints.
Method Number Two: Organizing
Create blocks on the paper. For some students I will take a highlighter and create a colored space for each section they need to write. They need to fill in the block with their words. This helps them spatially with the location, but it also sets up a viable chunking. They now know where they start and end.
If the student is working on it electronically, I create blocks, which I label if we are creating an essay. This way the student is not just staring at vast white space that needs to be filled.
If the document is shared on Google drive, you can look at exactly what your child is writing and give suggestion in writing as opposed to verbally. This way your suggestions have no tone, especially if you have unreal expectations for your child’s writing.
Method Number Three: Modeling
It is not cheating to give your child sentence starters. It is not cheating to give your child examples. It is not cheating to explain that writing is a process that takes a lot of work and sometimes we don’t come up with the right words right away. You have an opportunity to show your child in a one-on-one setting what writing is and can be in a way that a teacher in a classroom rarely can. Talk through a sentence with your child. Read the sentence aloud to your child and see what they hear. Ask them if what you read makes sense or is really a detail that supports their thesis. Allow your writing and your child’s writing to have mistakes. Try not to nitpick over the grammar rules you know, and instead celebrate them for getting their ideas on paper. Changes can always be made during multiple revisions because writing is a process, so the idea that you sit down once and it is done is really off base.
Finally, be kind to yourself during this process and be kind to your child. Learning is not a one and done thing, so if this is going to be a process for you and them. You are learning how to instruct your child in the basic skills that will help them to be successful learners.
Tomorrow I will post more about reading.
Love and Light, Everyone!